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Critics: WV Water Legislation Leaves Out Voice of People

Angie Rosser, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, says ordinary folks are going to have to get involved if they want lawmakers to protect water quality. (Dan Heyman)
Angie Rosser, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, says ordinary folks are going to have to get involved if they want lawmakers to protect water quality. (Dan Heyman)
April 7, 2017

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Community groups are harshly criticizing legislation they say would hurt West Virginia streams and drinking water, and they feel ordinary residents are being left out of the legislative process.

Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, says at a recent public hearing, more than two dozen people spoke against Senate Bill 687, nicknamed the "coal bill." But when the bill came up before a committee, she says the only person called to speak was an industry lobbyist.

"That sends a strong message to us that the voices of West Virginians, and the stakeholders who rely on clean and healthy streams are left out," Rosser said.

Senate Bill 687 ends a requirement to count insects and invertebrates when studying stream health, which opponents say paves the way for more pollution from mining.

Supporters of the bill argue that reducing clean-water regulations would bring economic growth and jobs. But Rosser says her group hasn't seen any evidence that a single job would be created.

Critics charge House Bill 2506, the so-called "cancer creek" bill, would permit more pollution in surface waters by changing how the state measures baseline stream flows. And House Bill 2811 would further reduce regulations on storage tanks.

Raleigh County resident Junior Walk, says the bills would speed up declines he's already seeing in water quality.

"I'm a fairly young person, you know, and I've seen the freshwater mussels die off in the Coal River," he said. "You can't find a freshwater mussel in Coal River anymore, and you used to find them all the time when I was a young kid. We used to eat them."

According to Rosser, public outcry is the best cure when lawmakers ignore the concerns of regular folks. She says the Elk River chemical spill three years ago brought people out to demand more water-quality protections.

"Since then, it has been that chipping away from that progress we made," she added. "And our fear is, when and where is the next disaster going to happen? And why haven't we learned these lessons?"

Rosser says an online petition asks Gov. Jim Justice to veto the cancer creek bill if it comes to him. She's hopeful that kind of action has some impact.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV